In purely baseball terms, the early part of the season has been great for the Twins. They’re hitting home runs at a record pace. And their 17-10 start through the end of April has them positioned with the second-best record in the American League and the third-best record in MLB.
That has not, however, translated into one critical area: attendance.
In 14 home dates through the end of April – including three in March when the Twins opened at Target Field – the Twins averaged just 17,007 fans. That was down from the 21,072 they averaged through April of 2018, and the 19.3 percent decrease in attendance from last year to this year through April represents the second-biggest percentage decline in the majors behind Toronto.
The seven smallest crowds in Target Field history all came in the first 14 home games this season, including Tuesday’s announced crowd (tickets sold) of 12,181 that featured far fewer fans in the actual stands.
Across the board in MLB, attendance declined less than 1 percent from last year through April to this year through April. But overall MLB attendance dropped 4 percent in 2018, so the Twins are not alone in this attendance battle.
There are plenty of reasons and theories for the early attendance dip for the Twins this season, just as there are reasons to be both encouraged and nervous about the rest of the season if you’re the Twins. Let’s examine some of those here:
*The weather was not good: The Twins played twice in March at Target Field on days in Minneapolis that didn’t reach 40 degrees, and things didn’t get much better from there. Only one of the Twins’ 14 home games this season has come on a day where the high temperature in Minneapolis even reached 60.
There were five glorious April days when the high in Minneapolis was 70 or better. The Twins were on the road or off on all five of those days.
Those cold temperatures surely pushed away some would-be fans, even as the Twins started the season playing well.
*The Twins ceded control of the weather: Of course, the weather didn’t used to matter when the Twins played in the Metrodome. There were 81 guaranteed home games every year. Given budget and space constraints when Target Field was approved and conceived, it was built as an open air stadium.
I’ve loved that decision from Day One, but I’m also concerned that the open air is not aging well. The priorities of a growing number of fans have shifted from focusing on the action to circulating throughout the ballpark, eating, drinking and having a good time. That’s not much fun when it’s cold, raining or both. And it’s even less fun when poor weather causes your plans to get canceled.
The Twins have tried to combat that with more indoor spaces and flexible ticket options, but fans haven’t turned out this year.
Compare the Twins to the Brewers – who play in the retractable roof Miller Park – and you see some stark contrasts. Milwaukee had some lean years after the park opened attendance-wise, but from 2012-17, years the Brewers missed the playoffs, the park still drew at least 2.5 million fans five times.
This year the Brewers are averaging 34,063 fans in 16 home games. That’s double what the Twins are averaging at Target Field. No doubt the indoor comfort helped sell tickets in Milwaukee in April.
*There’s often a lag between performance and attendance: Milwaukee is also benefiting, of course, from winning 96 games last season. The Twins put a subpar product on the field for almost all of 2011-18 – with a couple upward blips, including the wild card berth in 2017 – and there wasn’t much optimism from the fan base heading into 2019.
As a result, the Twins are paying for it at the gate. Season ticket sales are driven largely by past performance, and the record-low crowds so far at Target Field in 2019 tell you how far those numbers have fallen.
The sliver of good news for the Twins is that if they stay in contention as the weather improves, their walk-up crowd should get a good boost and their attendance very well could recover and push north of 2 million. If not, things could get pretty dire.
The Twins drew 1.959 million fans last season, their lowest attendance since 2004. They drew more than 2.4 million fans in 2009, their last season in the Dome, and they drew more than 3 million each of their first two seasons at Target Field.
If attendance stays down by 4,000 per game all season — as it is through April — the Twins’ season attendance would fall below 1.7 million and would be the lowest since they barely drew 1 million people in 2000.
I don’t think that will happen, but the Twins are caught right now in a tangle of bad luck and a mess of their own making.
By the way, the forecast high is 48 today and 57 Thursday for the last two days of a homestand on which the Twins are 4-1 so far.
It’s supposed to be 71 Saturday here, but the Twins will be in New York to play the Yankees.